Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is very optimistic about the industry in Canada and globally. Hornung recently sat down with Today’s Energy Solutions (TES) to discuss 2016’s wind outlook.
TES: What do you expect for the 2016 wind energy market?
Robert Hornung: We expect that 2015 will be a record year globally and a strong year in the U.S. for new wind energy development. Canada installed 1,500MW in 2015, a very significant number although not a record year. As we look ahead in Canada, we expect a minimum of 1,000MW to be installed in 2016 with continued growth in future years. This growth will be driven by very positive policy announcements from governments in Canada. While coal is a relatively small contributor to electricity generation in Canada, the two biggest locations where coal is used are Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Alberta, 55% of electricity comes from coal and the government wants to eliminate that completely by 2030 and replace two-thirds of it with renewables – mostly wind because it is cost competitive. Alberta has about 1,500MW of installed wind energy capacity today; we think that this new regulation will increase it to between 6,000MW and 7,000MW during the next 15 years.
In Saskatchewan, the government intends to increase its percentage of electricity generating capacity from renewables from 25% today to 50% by 2030. Saskatchewan has about 200MW of installed capacity now and that capacity is expected to reach over 2,000MW by 2030. These new opportunities – along with our 2016 CanWEA conference in Calgary – has created a lot of energy and excitement right now to implement wind energy and further its growth in Canada.
TES: What manufacturing practices do you see growing in 2016?
RH: The continued move towards taller and lighter wind turbines has allowed wind energy to become viable in a greater variety of geographical locations because the technology can access better wind conditions. Also, the taller the turbine, the larger the blades can be to sweep a larger area and gather more energy.
We will continue to see more progress in lightweight materials, which will reduce costs. The manufacturing evolution that is occurring in this industry is more of enhancements and modifications, as the fundamentals will stay the same.
TES: Do you see any emerging technologies in wind?
RH: There is still a tremendous amount of work going on to increase data management for wind turbines. One recent example (among many) is GE’s initiative last year to capitalize on Big Data with its Digital Wind Farm. We will continue to see more sophisticated analysis and integration of all the data points on a wind farm to drive more efficient and cost-effective production.
TES: What do you see in terms of job growth?
RH: Wind energy is a market that globally has grown at an average annual rate of 25% during the last 15 years and the focus of the growth has shifted. At first, the growth was in Europe and then shifted to the U.S. and then China and India. Now, we’re seeing a very significant amount of work that is occurring in emerging markets such as Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa. Although we’re starting to see slower growth in the industrial countries (due to reduced growth in electricity demand), that slack is being picked up in developing markets.
In Canada, the five major suppliers of wind have been Siemens, GE, Vestas, Enercon, and Senvion. You will see those five companies prominent globally as well as a number of Chinese manufacturers who are starting to see some growth, especially in developing countries.
TES: When will wind energy be competitive in terms of power generation in Canada and globally?
RH: It’s truly competitive now. In Canada, the only source of energy that would be cheaper than wind would be natural gas, but only if you ignore the prospect of carbon pricing, and we now see more and more jurisdictions imposing carbon prices in Canada. The other thing is that natural gas prices are at historic lows. We don’t think these costs will stay where they are during the next 20 years. Wind’s costs are continuing to decline (they have fallen 61% in the last 6 years), and in the next 10 to 15 years, gas prices are going to increase.
I think a lot of people are recognizing that wind is the most cost-competitive source of energy generation. In Canada, during the last five years, wind has been the largest source of new electric generation capacity, and that has been the case in Europe for the last 15 years. So, the continued cost decline associated with wind will only strengthen its position.
If we are serious about climate change, everyone will have to have carbon pricing. The U.S. is starting to take steps in the electricity sector through the Clean Power Plan, but if you look across the U.S. at states that have renewable portfolio standards, there are fantastic opportunities for not just wind, but renewable energy in general.
The wind industry has prospects and climate change helps these opportunities going forward. If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors, the only way we can do that is through low-carbon electricity. We are just at the starting edge of that transition and it is positive in terms of market.
Substitution of fossil fuels with electricity in transport, heating and cooling, and industrial processes will provide enormous new opportunities for wind energy, because it is truly one of the lowest-cost sources of electricity generation in the world. We are also entering a time of energy efficiency and still working our way out of a global financial crisis, so electricity demand growth is not what is likely to drive new opportunities – it is going to be substituting and replacing fossil fuels and increased electrification. In some cases such as Canada, there will be a possibility to export clean electricity.
Canada Wind Energy Association
About the author: Arielle Campanalie is the associate editor of Today’s Energy Solutions and can be reached at 216.393.0240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.